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Come holiday season this December, Marty Kinahan’s mantel is going to have a bare spot.

On Thursday, the longtime Santa Rosa Junior College men’s soccer coach was trying to find the best, right, most accurate way to describe his feelings for the program at Lake Tahoe Community College.

He came up with this: “We are not exchanging Christmas cards.”

It’s sometimes hard for a deep rivalry to develop between community college programs because student-athletes turn over so heavily from year to year. But the heat between SRJC and Tahoe — at least from this end — is pretty intense.

Consider this: The Lake Tahoe Coyotes have eliminated the Bear Cubs from postseason play the past two seasons. Two years ago, talented Bear Cub Adrian Victor Calderon was sent to the hospital with a badly broken wrist after a hard foul delivered by a Tahoe player, Kinahan said. Last year? The Bear Cubs were ranked fourth and the visiting Coyotes fifth, but Tahoe piled up three goals in the first half and despite posting a comeback, the Bear Cubs were ousted from the playoffs courtesy of a 3-2 loss.

So Friday’s home match with Tahoe could provide both sparks and sparkle.

“It’ll be a great game to watch,” Kinahan said. “From a fan’s standpoint, it’s going to be exceptional.”

The Bear Cubs come into the contest 3-0-1, having posted a tie with then-No. 2 nationally ranked Oxnard College and earning wins over Cabrillo, Contra Costa and Foothill.

But none of those games could really prepare a team for the first earnest rivalry contest of the season.

Kinahan said Santa Rosa and Tahoe run different styles of program. The Coyotes’ roster is heavy on international players, according to Kinahan, while he prefers to find his guys from this area.

“They are just kind of rent-a-players,” he said. “They have no association to Tahoe.”

“I’d rather have all local guys. I want local guys to play at the JC because that is what the JC is for. They have more buy in, they want to play for us. I don’t think they have that up there,” he said.

That said, Kinahan wouldn’t trade a couple of his guys from far-flung spots for all the pines in Tahoe.

Wilson Briggs, a sophomore from York, England, is a captain this year and one of the Bear Cubs’ more lethal weapons on offense. Paired with pal and fellow sophomore Chris Ochoa who played at Petaluma High, and the Bear Cubs are an extremely dangerous offensive team.

Ochoa has three goals and three assists while Briggs has two goals and five assists.

“They are unbelievable,” Kinahan said of his offensive tandem.

Kinahan said that Briggs has dialed in the mental aspects of his game so that he doesn’t get too high or too low as the game progresses. And no one on the field is fitter, Kinahan said.

“He’s exceptional,” Kinahan said. “Everybody feeds off him.”

And Ochoa feeds everybody else.

“He makes everyone on the field better,” Kinahan said.

The team will look to those two to set the tone against Tahoe Friday.

“I think veterans like Ochoa and Wilson, they are all business,” he said.

So too is another Brit, Jack Bailey from Middlesbrough, England.

“He gives us a phyical presence,” Kinahan said. “He tackles extremely hard. He’s a really good defensive mid.”

This match-up with Tahoe is one Kinahan relishes.

“There is something about them, an ego, a cockiness, and I love playing a team like that,” he said.

After what promises to be a physical battle Friday, things won’t get any easier for the Bear Cubs. Up next are San Francisco City College at home next Tuesday and a home game Sept. 20 against De Anza before traveling to San Joaquin Delta for the Big 8 Conference opener Sept. 27.

The relentless schedule is how Kinahan wanted it this season.

“I kind of had, like, a little bit of an epiphany this summer,” Kinahan said. “I’m tired of friggin’ pampering these guys. I want them to be road-tested and I want them to play the best teams we can possibly play.”

“I’m going after the best teams,” he said.

And for now, that means a Tahoe team that’s gotten the best of the Bear Cubs in the past two seasons.

“I respect them for giving us the game and coming down here,” he said.

But that’s about where the niceties end.

“It has developed into this weird rivalry,” Kinahan said. “We just don’t get along.”

That’s OK. That just means Kinahan can save a stamp come December.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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